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Copyright Term (Your Input Requested)

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by Steerpike, Aug 17, 2020.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I've been asked to talk about copyrights and the balance between creator rights and public benefit. I read through some threads by Cory Doctorow on twitter and watched a talk he gave. In my view, he comes out fairly strong against rights holders. Since we're all writers here I'm curious if this is something you all think of as important or whether the 'public good' part of the policy behind copyright should be subservient to the creator's rights. One example I used on twitter--copyright term was initially 14 years, now it's life of the author plus 70 years (whereas patents have gone from 14 years to around 17 years). The current term is, in my view, beyond what can be said to promote the public good. It's a recognition of rights-holder interests (mostly corporate). Is it too long, or as writers do you feel it is best to keep those rights for yourself and your heirs as long as possible? I'd like to be able to present perspectives from both sides to the class I'm talking to. There is not a right or wrong answer--it's a policy discussion and we expect interests to differ depending on the stakes of the parties.
     
  2. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    The 70 years thing only serves Disney and such corporations. I don't actually care that much what happens to my copyrights after I'm gone but I do want to have control while I live. And I suppose I'd want my heirs to 'look after' my work for a couple decades or so—whether they make any money off it is less important!
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm not sure we can make a presumption of public good here. An artist creates and should be able to enjoy the rewards of any success (fortune and glory, kid) and be protected from others stealing that away. No mention of public good in there, just reward for labor.

    There's some sentiment that the heirs of artists should continue to enjoy those benefits. That gets into trickier ground. There's an argument to be made against people enjoying the fruits of someone else's labor, and there's an argument in favor of inherited wealth, however modest. There are also complications in defining just how wide to cast the heir net. Sorry, couldn't resist that.

    But again, none of that has anything to say about the public good. But there is an argument there, too. For a very long time, at least in the West (I'm not familiar with how other cultures regard art, especially works not associated with a religion), we view "great" art as a cultural artifact and so very much the business of public interest.That impulse got extended to all works of creation because who knows what overlooked work today will be the great art of tomorrow. And anyway, we historians want to preserve *everything* so you'll always get our vote.

    You will notice, however, that nothing in the above sentence says anything about money. It's all about physical preservation of the work, along with clear lines of provenance and attribution.

    I don't think this is an easy topic, though it's one that's easy to oversimplify. Most all copyright advocates will say the artists themselves need protection. That gets extended to the first generation readily, for what happens if the successful artists dies young? So, if the children surely have rights (not just to the wealth but also control over the fate of the works themselves), what about the grandchildren? I don't know of any law that does this, but I can see an argument to make that a book (let us use that as an example) should be treated like any other property. It can be assigned generation after generation, along with all the copyright protections and any financial benefits. That, of course, would mean a corporate entity could own a work of art in perpetuity, for it never bequeaths, it just sells out. I'm guessing, but that might be why there's a limit to the length any copyright can be held.

    So, if there's a limit, what is the right length of time? That's where much twiddling was done in the 20thc.

    It's not an easy topic, but it's an interesting one as it takes one to the heart of interesting questions such as, what is art? who owns art, especially something that has multiple creators? how much can be reproduced before it's a copyright violation? Are there reasonable exceptions (see the "for educational purposes" clause). What is the relationship between art, the artist, and the public good? Who is art for, anyway?

    And so on.
     
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  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Thanks, guys. I'll be back with more comments later (at work currently). The 'public good' angle comes in because that is, at least in theory, the policy basis underlying patent and copyright law. They are meant (again, at least in theory) to encourage authors and inventors to produce works and inventions and, in the case of patents, to come forward with the details of their new inventions, so that the public can benefit from them. The limited-time exclusivity given to authors and inventors for their creations is supposed to be a carrot that incentivizes behavior that contributes to the public good.
     
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I do have a few thoughts:

    - I think whether the patent or copyright is actively being used should also matter. If a property has been abandoned the public good isn't being served by preventing others access.

    - I don't think all copyright infringement is the same. Someone publishing fanfiction in your world - even for money - is not the same as somebody literally publishing your writing and attaching their own editor, publisher, and cover art to it. There's also a difference between people sharing a pdf and another company printing and selling a copy.

    - I think there's a difference between a novel or a song, and something like a movie with hundreds of people involved in its creation.

    So I guess in my opinion, looking at copyright laws (not patents), I think there's room for a copyright to expire in phases, where fair use increases over time.

    That said, there's no shortage of stories being told, so it's hard for me to see how the industry is significantly harmed by extended copyright terms. There's plenty of room for people to create their own stories. And if anything, I'm not sure aisles of spin off books would be good for the industry either.
     
  6. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I cant say I have deep thoughts on this topic, so I would be open to good argumentation. My sense is there is both value to getting to enjoy the benefits of a creation, and benefit in having it become part of the public domain. I think I would favor a policy that went along the lines of a period of protection from the public domain, with the ability to renew, and the gradual lessoning of private protections over a period of time. Such that, Disney could protect Mickey Mouse for some years, but would not have to same protection at 70 years, that they had at 20 years. If I was a policy wonk, I am sure I could write all that in legalese. I'll leave it to others though.

    I am inclined to think, that along the lines of garage bands that found that letting fans keep pirated copies actually helped their marketing, something similar may be likely with copyrighted material.

    For me, the biggest concern is actually over work I would like to publish but have not yet, and someone else beating me to the punch. I would hope, that once published, I could demonstrate that I was the original source, and continue to hold the property while I expanded it. If I had no plans to though, I don't mind others doing it instead...it would be nice if they asked, I guess ;)
     
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There was a happy time, long long ago, when freeware and shareware were a big deal. Bob Wallace. Jim Button. Will Crowther. Andrew Fluegelman. Jim Knopf.

    *nostalgic sigh*
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I don’t see a “public good” in taking the rights away from a writer or family members, it’s not a medicine, heh heh. It would serve corporate greed as much or more if on dying and (somehow) my work got famous, they could make a movie and make big money and my kids get screwed. If you want rights to someone’s creative efforts, PAY for them. If you want to enjoy someone’s creative efforts, pay what they ask (they have the option to give it away free) Without creative influence Middle Earth would’ve been pillaged worse than it has been. Now, 200 years down the road? Eh. But if your work is big enough, I think the family should be able to continue advancing their rights. And if ever my brain gets transferred into a cyborg, I want my book rights, damn it.

    That said, my books have been pirated... Whispers of Ghosts even had a site claiming to have the book before I finished it, which I thought was a helluva feat. This is small timer stuff. I don’t really care even if it stings. But, it could be taken too far.

    Now, you get into medical patents, there are reasons for having long patents... for instance, many patents are placed a decade before the product is allowed to hit the market by the FDA, and the clock is ticking on that patent and they’re spending, not making money. It’s not like a patent for, say, a toe-stop on a roller skate which one can get and produce wham bam! Drugs and medical devices take an insane amount of time to hit the market and insane amounts of money and risk to get them there. Without long patents, either drug/device prices would be forced up to more quickly recoup losses, or companies would quit researching, neither of which is good for the public.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    If we get into patents, we'll never return. It's the Pit of Despair (and of Eternal Legal Fees).

    If rights to a work were never taken away from a writer, all work would end up in court. Any inheritor of ownership can reassign those rights (I think). Copyright lapses only when no one renews. Then the work becomes public domain. That seems sensible because as public domain the work is actually protected--no one can then claim it as their own. It's sort of permanently outside copyright.

    It does irk me to no end to see public domain works being offered for sale on Amazon. A POD version, fine. The distributor deserves compensation for production. But when it's an electronic version? Not so much. Especially when many of those reproductions are done without corrections or emendations or commentary to create some new value.

    I pity future literary historians trying to trace a manuscript.
     
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  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    In the U.S., you don't have to renew works created after Jan 1, 1978. The copyright, as a general rule, lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, after which it expires and goes into the public domain.

    I don't think the end of the copyright term is a "taking away" of the rights of the creator or family. The rights are granted by statute in the first place, and the rights granted are limited. You don't take away rights when the copyright term expires--that's just the end of what was given to start with.
     
  11. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Rights given, rights taken away or expired. I think the lifetime and 70 is reasonable. I see the right of the creator as a natural right Being upheld And protected by statute and regulations. What I want right now is a “right” to a declicker in Adobe Auditions that gets rid of a mouth click that’s driving me nuts! LMAO. No idea what my mouth was doing.

     
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I have little of value to add....

    Which is kinda the point, heh. How can a work of fiction ever be a "public good?"

    Seriously. Copyright laws are essential for protecting individuals' ability to profit from the work. I get that. Whether the writer, or a corporation, or whatever individual or family member inherits those rights, the laws exist to protect the ability to profit from that work. How is there a "public good" other than this ability to profit from the work? Will the entire public gain royalties, heh? Or are we merely opening up the potential for individual gain; i.e., Joe Public can now create works derived from that original work? Is that the public good: Like opening up a resource, just not oil, land, water?
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I believe that part of the rationale underlying this is that 'art' in a civilized society is a good unto itself. Painting, novels, plays, and so forth. Encouraging people to pursue those activities is then also seen as a good.
     
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    For me, the question is how any single, given piece of art is absolutely required to be in the public domain for this public good.

    People can have art—painting novels, plays, etc.—they can pursue those activities, without having rights to using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, for instance, in their own artistic pursuit. Removing HP from public domain doesn't reduce whatever good people gain from art. It's not in public domain right now; are we as a society in any way hurt by that? A discussion of times involved, terms or length, in copyright would have to address this question. Remove work X from public domain for 5 years. Is society hurt? Now, 25 years. Same question. One author dies at age 23, and another at age 85. Is society more hurt by the author who lived longer? Heh. [Here, me deriving from Animal Farm to create a new adage, fitting for that story: "The artist that dies young serves society best."]

    I feel I may sound like I'm playing Devil's Advocate here. But I have a natural, long-held aversion to some of the squishier, socially-constructed "values" that do not make much sense in and of themselves. Art, in the whole as the abstract, may be good for society. I think it is. But particular works that do not serve any practical benefit? Even some of these might enlighten people or bring people joy, and I think these are good effects upon society. But must those works be in the public domain for this to occur? That, I'm not sure.

    Edit/Addendum: Incidentally, I've wondered if the opposite might be true. Given the current penchant for deriving works or retelling the same tales over and over and over—a la Hollywood; but look anywhere—and I wonder if withholding works from public domain might actually be better for society on the whole...
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2020
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Do rights unavoidably lapse after seventy years? Cannot the family ask to continue ownership? It'd be sort of like a family being forced to sell the company seventy years from incorporation.
     
  16. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

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    I think life + 70 years is reasonable, but life + 50 would also be okay. If an author dies young leaving a young family behind, at least they'll be covered, assuming the books are selling.

    I know that companies try to extend copyright, and Disney has done this (as far as I know). I don't think extending in this way benefits society.
     
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    No. In the U.S. at least, when the term is over the work goes into the public domain. Nothing the rights holder can do about it.
     
  18. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    I think the rather extreme expansion of the length of copyright makes you lose track of the fact that it is intended to be temporary.
    From the US Constitution:
    "...to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for a limited Time to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
    Notice here that it is purely a practical solution. A limited, financial gain would inspire more people to come up with useful stuff. It is not ownership in the sense of property right.
     
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Thanks. I'd not even thought about it, except for a vague idea that copyright could be renewed. Nice to think my books will one day be in the public domain. I wonder what will become of my history essays.
     
  20. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    I seem to remember news items (a year or two back? Maybe longer. I can't keep track of dates anymore) about certain corporations at least attempting to circumvent copyright expirations by claiming trademarks on certain names from fictional works. Disney with 'Peter Pan' I believe was one example. Haven't really followed up on any of that so I'm not sure whether it's still going on (but would guess it is).
     
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